De rouille et d'os – Rust and Bone

De rouille et d'os – Rust and Bone

Postby CAP » Fri Mar 29, 2013 1:32 pm

Its cinema release finished this week but I think it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray from April. It’s worth it. This is an edgy romance that has become better known for the special effects rendering the female lead a paraplegic and there’s certainly some pretty fancy green-screen/compositing involved in removing her lower legs and plenty of opportunities to inspect the handiwork. But I was more interested in seeing where writer/director Jacques Audiard takes this bigger budget, more spectacular vehicle than previous work.

The story is about a mid-twenties drifter, a tall and powerfully-built Belgian named Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is granted custody of his five-year-old son, Sam, when his estranged wife and her partner are presumably busted for drug smuggling. Ali and Sam drift (possibly from South Western France), penniless to Antibes where his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) is implicitly roped in to raise Sam. She is older and married without children. It is telling upon introduction, she first looks to Sam and only then politely acknowledges her drifter brother. She knows the arrangement, even if her feckless brother can’t quite spell it out. Ali is clearly not up for parenting, beyond some slight pride in fatherhood. Ali is not up for much more than exerting his imposing physique, particularly to challengers. He is, if anything, a prize fighter, but one so far incapable of even submitting himself properly to a discipline. Like many athletes, he is pretty much an emotional cripple, incapable of articulating or even recognising his own feelings - which is why he is so dedicated to his own body, even if he has nowhere to really take it. It’s called playing to your strengths, I suppose.

Ali picks up work as a bouncer and one night outside a nightclub breaks up a fight between patrons and helps the injured Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) to her car. He ends up driving her home, maybe as a pick-up (the bouncers all fantasise about this), maybe as kindness. They don’t exactly hit it off. She is smart and works in the local aquarium with performing killer whales. He tells her she dresses like a slut. He is not smart. She invites him in to get an ice-pack for his injured hand. She has her kind side, although Ali is hoping for something more. She also has a grumpy partner. Ali sees her private life is complicated but leaves his card anyway, partly as a little challenge to her indignant partner and partly because, well, at this point he’s basically a dick. That will eventually change of course. The audience can’t wait.

Change commences via a spectacular mishap at the aquarium when one of the killer whales launches itself onto the platform from which Stephanie and assistants orchestrate the performance and knocks her senseless into the water. Actually the editing is so incoherent to this scene one can’t be quite sure why the killer whale gets it so wrong, something presumably to do with one of the pool gates or locks jamming, we see this signalled by one of the assistants. But just what goes wrong is never really explained. It is only from a vague flashback that we infer one of the killer whales then bites off her lower legs. Well, there was a kind of feeding routine going on. Who can say? The bottom line is she wakes up in hospital to find her legs removed from above the knee down. Understandably, she takes it badly. She ignores visitors, doctors, ends up somewhere else, alone in a darkened room. She wants no-one. The partner is gone. After a couple of months of fade ins/fade outs with slow traumatised music score, she ends up calling Ali. Which just goes to show you never can tell when that card will come in use!

Ali drops by next day, with characteristic alacrity. There have already been several opportunities in the phone call for her to remind him how much smarter she is and for him to demonstrate a classic alpha-male defence of shrug yeah well whatever. Some things transcend cultural boundaries. Ask the French. Their relationship does not look promising, to say the least. But at this point Stephanie does not have many options, she needs someone, for something, but it has to be on her terms. What can Ali provide? For starters, a few tips on personal hygiene, as he opens a window to allow some of her B.O. to escape, and then later cruising along the promenade, she in her wheelchair, the invitation to go for a swim. Swimsuits are a mere formality for Ali and as he promptly accepts his own invitation and demonstrates a blithe animal immersion, Stephanie has an epiphany. She issues a piercing whistle down across the beach to Ali. She is, after all, a sort of animal trainer. Ali duly responds and she is brought down onto the beach in her wheelchair, there to discreetly jettison a skirt and be carried to the water, once in the water to discover the freedom still allowed her. She quickly sheds her t-shirt and swims away from Ali. He returns to the beach to doze, eventually to be summoned by that whistle.

There is a relationship here, but it’s hard to see Ali maintaining any commitment to it. He agrees to regular visits and Stephanie at least has a foothold from which to regroup. She ruthlessly culls her wardrobe, rekindles former friendships and proceeds to therapy, eventually prosthetics. They are friends, she has learned to walk but she is insecure. She has ample compensation for her accident but there’s no word of a new position for her at the aquarium. She has no real prospects. He meanwhile is drawn into illegal prize-fighting, the bare knuckle, no-holds-barred variety and casual sex with girls at the gym. He can only explain the fighting in terms she has used to describe her former life. She loved the attention, the control, now she has none. Fighting gives Ali some of that, and through him she re-establishes that connection as well. She accompanies him to fights, is both thrilled and terrified of losing him to crippling injury. He can’t even see that although she offers to pay him the equal of his winnings to visit her rather than fight. Sex inevitably crops up in the conversation. Casual sex is the only kind he does. He offers it to her and partly as a challenge, partly as shrewd enticement to greater intimacy, she accepts. It is sex without kissing at first but again Stephanie discovers a bodily response she cannot deny, that remains intact despite the amputations. She rediscovers a little more of herself, to her delight. The scene itself is not great, although again the CGI for the amputated legs is impressive. Sex scenes are tricky. You don’t want porn or just anatomy and you don’t want anything too theatrical either. For this kind of thing I still think Pascal Ferran’s Lady Chatterley has the best scene of two people just doing it, no frills.

Anyway, so now they have a regular scene going although for him it is still just casual sex – she could be anyone – even when she takes over as his manager for the illegal prize fighting. He doesn’t get it. She will eventually have to spell it out for him. He will start to come around. But she progresses in other ways, can walk back to the aquarium and reconnect with former colleagues, starting with one killer whale. That all goes really well but by now there is no going back for her because she has moved on; she is not that person anymore. It’s a bitter sweet moment. Now she’s going around to his place and sooner or later meets his sister and son, is completely accepted. Ali is suddenly going places in Anna’s eyes. She breaks out the tea and biscuits. But Ali is not smart and has also fallen in with installation of illegal CCTV surveillance of workplaces for corporate wolves. It goes with his sleazy milieu. He is such a dick. This leads to Anna losing her job at some supermarket where she has been pilfering food with expired use-by dates and she learns of his involvement. He is thrown out of her house and flees to somewhere near Strasbourg. I don’t know why Strasbourg. It’s at the other end of the country. He doesn’t even tell Stephanie. He tries to set himself up as a legitimate fighter with a proper trainer and belatedly gets with a programme.

Next he sends for Sam. The movie has a number of credibility gaps and many of them concern Sam. Why Anna would relinquish Sam at this point is unexplained. Anna’s partner, Richard, I think, (Jean-Michel Correia) a lorry driver, simply delivers Sam to Ali. The whole ensuing climax loses traction for me on this point. Sam does not even like Ali very much because he’s too violent, strict and insensitive. But anyway Ali now pays more attention to Sam; they start to have fun together. It’s winter and they venture onto a frozen lake with a sled to note the difference between skiing and skating. While Ali attends a call of nature at the lake’s edge, Sam falls through some thin ice and disappears. Oh dear Audiard! Two calamities in the one movie! Ali frantically tries to find him, peering into the dark water and through surrounding ice and once located must try and smash through the ice with his fists. Personally, I’d have used the sled but he succeeds although pulverizes his fists into the bargain. The boy is frozen but Ali rushes him to hospital where they are finally able to revive him. Apparently snap frozens can be successfully thawed. Then they attend to his hands. They are effectively ruined for fighting. It has been a symbolic sacrifice. Then he gets a call from Stephanie who suddenly has his number, knows about the accident. Maybe he made a call at some point that I missed. Anyway as usual, Ali has trouble opening up about anything but this time can’t quite let her hang up either. This time he is the one who needs her, she who must be kind. Finally he must be more than his fists or fury and fail. She must be something more disembodied and caring. Now he sees what she can do for him, what he needs someone to do. He breaks down and confesses he loves her.

No doubt this is what makes the movie a hit and it is the obvious resolution to the romance. It’s what we’ve all been waiting to hear, more or less. But it would have made more sense for Ali to have returned to Antibes to try and square things up and regain custody of Sam. It would have given the storyline more economy and elegance. The movie has interesting echoes to the director’s Sur mes lèvresRead My Lips from 2001. There, a handicapped woman – deaf - falls into an uneasy alliance with a petty criminal, to their mutual benefit. Nightclubs with pounding dance tracks feature prominently in both. There also, the woman has the brains in the partnership. But there, the story is focussed on essentially a heist and revenge for past wrongs. In Rust and Bone the focus shifts to their personal dependency and is slightly messier for it. The story must switch between the respective partner’s needs but Stephanie’s tragic accident and Cotillard’s compelling performance make the balance especially hard. Hence there are a number of annoying loose ends. Audiard’s background is as a writer, so that he comes to directing more concerned with character and story rather than a pictorial concern with staging and shots. He’s more an actor’s director and in interviews stresses his preference for characters before plot, the need to make the storyline to some extent unpredictable, responsive more to character development and mood. Hence visually, the pictures often have a ragged, uncertain quality, capturing conduct sometimes at the expense of story or plot. But while he chooses such adventurous settings, such surprising and vivid characters, technical shortcomings can be overlooked.

Give it an 8. :)
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Re: De rouille et d'os – Rust and Bone

Postby CAP » Mon Apr 08, 2013 6:35 am

I’m adding this as a postscript rather than rewrite the post, just to correct the description of the final scenes near Strasbourg. What I missed on first viewing is that Anna’s partner Richard does not deliver Sam to Ali permanently, but only on a day excursion. He will return to Antibes with the boy that evening. So Richard inevitably learns of the accident and ends up at the hospital with Ali and it’s via his phone that Stephanie gets in touch.

Also I should mention the movie is based on a short story by Craig Davidson, a Canadian. And on watching it again with a friend I was struck how evocative the music track is – not just in the original score by Alexandre Desplat but the choice of song excerpts that seamlessly link and heighten moods. So many of these are English language that often the film doesn’t feel particularly French.

My favourite scene on reviewing – the scene where Stephanie is in her wheelchair on the balcony and starts to run through her show gestures with increasing conviction and a rising sound track - one of those anthem-like modern soul tracks. Her rediscovered sense of control is palpable and very moving.
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